Live to serve another day
My service as a City Year Corps member and administrator
I was startled. We were sitting in the library during our after-school homework help program, and I was working on a math assignment with two ninth-grade girls.
It was a quiet afternoon, and we were making good progress. Our team gets to spend an hour each day after classes end with students who want a little extra tutoring. It’s typically a great way to interact with students in a less formal setting.
I glanced up to find the two girls looking at me curiously. Dusty rays of light were streaming through the library windows, illuminating the students working quietly with Corps members at tables scattered around the spindly bookshelves. I was rather surprised by the question, since I met these girls in early August and had been working with them all year.
“What do you mean, Sarah?”
“I mean, there are a ton of schools in Tulsa,” she says, “and most of them are probably way better than this one. Why do you work here instead of somewhere else?”
I smiled. Of all the questions I get asked as a City Year Senior Corps member working in Tulsa Public Schools, this one is by far my favorite.
Unfortunately, it seems that it rarely occurs to students that we want to be here with them; it’s not that we couldn’t find a “better” role somewhere else. Each day, as City Year Corps members, we get the privilege of interacting with students from all walks of life and providing them with targeted and individualized support.
Coming in to school each morning, I hear my friend Kyle’s latest commentary about the NBA, and we discuss how to work on controlling frustration in class that day.
I try to catch my friend Arron at lunch to check in about staying honest in class and not copying other students’ work.
I chat with my friend Jamal about college football because he is shy and doesn’t have many friends.
When I came to City Year, I knew that I would have the opportunity to help kids learn. What I didn’t know was how much I would learn in the process — about myself and about the world around me.
I’ve learned that the experience of growing up in Tulsa can vary quite a bit depending on your zip code. I’ve learned that kids are similar, no matter their backgrounds.
I’ve also learned that each student faces a different future based on the opportunities available to him or her. Perhaps most, I’ve learned how significant the love and attention from a caring adult can be in the life of a young person, and how that investment can change the course of a life.
Sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming, and I wonder if I can make a difference at all. But when I stop to think about the talent and ability demonstrated by each one of the incredible students I see every day, I can’t help but smile.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to give back to my hometown and to help students discover their own potential. At City Year, we start each morning by saying, “We live to serve another day — and that’s a beautiful thing!”
Even on the hard days, I couldn’t be more thankful for the privilege.
Elliott May is a City Year Tulsa career services and alumni support coordinator.
Student names have been changed for privacy.